This is a guest post from Jon Morrow, who is 25 years old. His blog is On Moneymaking.

By Jon Morrow – I nearly killed myself in college to get straight A’s. Well, almost straight A’s. I graduated with 37 A’s and 3 B’s for a GPA of 3.921. At the time, I thought I was hot stuff. Now I wonder if it wasn’t a waste of time. Let me explain:

1. No one has ever asked about my GPA.
I was told that having a high GPA would open all kinds of doors for me. But you know what? I interviewed with lots of companies, received a total of 14 job offers after graduation, and none of the companies asked about it. They were much more impressed with stuff like serving as Chief of Staff for the student government and starting a radio station run by 200 volunteers.

I suppose a college recruiter from a Fortune 500 company might ask, but honestly, I can’t see any employer hiring a straight-A student over someone with five years of relevant work experience. It might tip the scale in a competitive situation, but in most cases, I haven’t seen that grades are really that important to employers.

2. I didn’t sleep.
Unless you’re a super genius, getting 37 A’s is hard work. For me, it was an obsession. Anything less than an A+ on any assignment was unacceptable. I’d study for 60-80 hours a week, and if I didn’t get the highest grade in class, I’d put in 100 hours the next week.

Translation: I didn’t sleep much. From my freshman to junior year, I averaged about six hours a night. By my senior year though, I was only getting 3-5 per night, even on weekends. I was drinking a 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew and 2-3 energy drinks per day just to stay awake. Not only is that unhealthy, but it’s not particularly fun either.

3. I’ve forgotten 95% of it.
I majored in English Literature and minored in Communication Theory. The main reason I chose those subjects was I thought they would teach me how to write and speak, two skills that would serve me well for the rest of my life.

Boy, was I stupid. Instead, I spent all my time reading classic literature and memorizing vague, pseudoscientific communication theories. Neither are useful at all, and I’ve forgotten at least 95% of it.

I’d guess the same is true for most college graduates. Tell me, what’s the point of spending 60-80 hours a week learning things that you immediately forget?

4. I didn’t have time for people.
Being in the student government and running a radio station, I had lots of opportunities to build a huge network. But I didn’t have time. Between studying and doing my job, I had to prioritize the people I wanted to develop relationships with and narrow it down to the handful who could help me the most.

That’s no way to go through school. College isn’t so much a training ground for entering the work place as a sandbox for figuring out who you are and how you relate to other people. You develop your social skills and forge relationships with people that might be colleagues for the rest of your life.

If I could do it all over again, I would spend less time in the library and more time at parties. I would have 50 friends, not 3. I would be known for “the guy that knows everyone,” not “the smartest guy in class.” Not only because it would’ve been more fun, but because I would still be friends with most of those people now and would have access to the networks they’ve developed over the last four years.

5. Work experience is more valuable.
In retrospect, I could’ve probably spent 20-30 hours a week on my studies and gotten B’s. That would’ve freed up 30-70 hours a week, depending on the course load. When I think of all of the things that I could’ve done with those hours, I just shake my head.

If there’s one thing graduates lack, it’s relevant work experience. If you want to be a freelance writer, you’re much better off writing articles for magazines and interning with a publishing company than working your tail off to get straight A’s. The experience makes you more valuable to future employers and usually results in a paycheck with a few more digits on it.

What about Graduate School?
If you’re getting your masters, going to law school, or becoming a doctor, then you’ll need all 37 of those A’s to get into the best school possible, and you can safely disregard this entire post. Just be sure that you follow through. I thought I would go to law school, and then I found out what a miserable career it is and how little it actually pays. All of those good grades are now going to waste.

It also comes down to the question, “What’s the most effective use of your time?” If you can’t imagine living without an advanced degree from an Ivy League school, then reading until your eyes fall out and sleeping on a table in the library is a perfectly defensible lifestyle.

On the other hand, if you want to get a job and make as much money as possible, then good grades aren’t going to help you as your teachers and parents might have you believe. You’re better making powerful friends, building a killer resume and generally having the time of your life on your parent’s dime.

Jon Morrow’s blog is On Moneymaking.

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Once you’re done with college, what should you focus on next? It’s clear your grades don’t matter, but what does matter? The most important thing after you graduate college is to treat your 20s like they matter. This is not practice. This is your life. And here: How to Make Your 20s Count

281 replies
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  1. Shawn
    Shawn says:

    Some companies actually get scared away by a student with straight A's who has no internships or other experiences outside of the classroom. But grades definitely can matter–especially in super-competitive industries such as consulting and investment banking.

    You’re exactly right. At the end of the day it's better to have good (not necessarily great) grades while also taking on leadership roles like you did with student government and the radio station.

    It sounds like, in the end, your hard work led to a well-rounded resume that helped you land quite a few offers. Not bad for a “straight A” student.

  2. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    When I first left university I put my grades on my resume. I did this because I was proud of them and also because that and unpaid internships were about all I had to put down.

    Even now, 11 years later, I have applied for numerous jobs where stipulating your college grades was part of the application process. They don’t always ask at the interview, but often times it’s part of the initial filtering process.

    I hear what you are saying and it sounds like maybe you took it to extremes but at age 22 it’s probably a bit early to write it off as an irrelevance.

    University is where you learn critical thinking and you can immerse yourself in a subject fully. I don’t regret anything I learned at university, even if I don’t remember it. If anything I regret what I didn’t learn. I did a highly vocational journalism degree, where at least half the course was devoted to practical stuff, such as running the university radio station. This was good because it helped me get a job. But I’m not sure it’s the point of university and later I regretted not doing something a bit broader and more traditionally academic. So I went and did a Masters in international relations.

  3. James
    James says:

    I got straight A’s too. No way, I did too. People are so lame. 64 comments on how I got straight A’s and still had a life or no life. Get back to work pretentious people. Assembly line is slowing down. Wait so is the economy. I wonder if there’s a correlation why people are so dawmed busy at work reading blogs. I got straight A’s and went to Harvard, and Oxford, my grades were so high I graduated Omega Suma Cum Loudly. People are different, work in different ways, there’s no wrong or right.

    This man feels that his work was a waste of time, well it is his own space to blog. We don’t need all this negative feedback and elitist bullshit. Get back to work. Please spare me. Oh this liberal hippie, “Spare any change, Spare any pot for a change.”

  4. Tiara
    Tiara says:

    Thank you.

    I wonder what it would look like if a university decided to revolutionize their structure to focus more on developing student leaders and communicators than purely developing student scholars.

    Oooh, I’d love to go to a school like this. The KaosPilots do something like this – it’s a business/social entrepreneurship school that’s less about being scholarly (not at all, really) and more about knowing how to manage, lead, take charge, work with people. It’s all project-based, and it is revolutionary.

    I come from a culture where it’s really cutthroat – “straight As or nothing”. Children are literally killing themselves because they missed an A. People get told that if you don’t get straight As in everything, you’ll amount to nothing. That if you’re not a doctor/engineer/lawyer, you’re nothing. And for what? At the end of the day, you’re all on the same playing field, your grades don’t matter anymore, it’s all about what you do. The people who spent all their life getting straight As (and sacrificing everything else in the process) get stuck while those with a mixed bag of grades and opportunities get through.

    The issue with this is that no one is taught how to ADAPT. The Straight A scorers all go “ack, all I know is study, I gave up my hobbies to study (that’s the only way to get As anyway), now what?” whereas the people who supposedly “Slacked off” can now draw on their varied experiences to adapt to anything that gets tossed to them.

    I quit university the first time after my first semester (and a foundation year) to go on a study-abroad tour that changed my life. I learnt so much more from that tour than from any university. I then spent a few months working at an international TV station. I was able to command more money, despite hardly going through university, than all the other fresh grads who had spent 3 or 4 years slogging off in school.

    I found that TV wasn’t for me and tried exploring other avenues. My parents were insistent on getting a degree, so I enrolled to university in Australia in a Creative Industries degree, which I thought would be practical and hands-on and international. To my dismay, it was too theoretical and Western-oriented (Asia=Japan in their eyes, apparently) and not particularly relevant to anything.

    There was one class I absolutely LOVED. CI Management. Taught by someone who was extremely practical and had worked in the arts industry for ages. The first day in class, he told us, “Last year I got a lot of feedback from students saying I wasn’t theoretical enough. THAT’S NOT THE POINT OF THE CLASS.” I loved him. He really showed us how the real world worked. His assignments were all real-life ones – analyze an arts company, create a project proposal. He didn’t care about academic theory, just that you understood how a budget works and how the industry works and that you can articulate a clear and concise vision for your project. My working style fitted perfectly, and I got a 7/A+ (despite going through all sorts of crap in my life at the time).

    This semester I’ve been struggling. Even though I do a lot of research and try to incorporate my myriad of experiences into my assignments, I keep getting 4s/Ds because I “didn’t include enough theory”. It didn’t matter if I synthesized material from other fields to make my point, it didn’t matter that I actually had LIVED the class material and could speak from the heart. Because I didn’t parrot the right people, I nearly failed.

    For one assignment, which was to make various art pieces related to lectures, we were given a sample marking scheme for our written work. The 1-3s/fails were crap, which was expected. The 4s and 5s, Ds and Cs (maybe Bs), were honest, clear, and showed how the writer learnt from the lecture material and incorporated that into their pieces. It was more personal than academic, but you could understand where they were coming from. The stuff that gets you 6s and 7s, As and A+s? COMPLETE GOBBLEDYGOOK. “This piece was influenced by XYZ’s theory on Blah, which can be seen by the use of the Palm Green colour described by SoNso in Etc as being “fundamental to the liminal processes of Blather”. The OffCut systhesis of ABC’s and DEF’s theoreom of SpaceTime…” Who the heck makes an ART PIECE totally by academic theory? It became a game of “quote as many theories as possible, whether it fits or not”. I refused to play that game, and I got a 4. D.

    The marking criteria is so subjective. What works awesomely for one lecturer is completely different for another. I learnt more from all my outside experiences – conferences, workshops, travel, etc – than I ever did at university. Unlike you, I don’t focus on making money (heck I don’t even care if I make any). What I do care about is whether I’m happy, whether I’m making a difference to the world, whether I am fulfilling my purpose. Writing theory-stuffed papers that never get read by anyone else besides the lecturer? Fulfils none of the above.

    (And I’m on a partial scholarship, to boot. Well, who knows if I still will be given my grades this semester. Bah. I want my CI Management lecturer back.)

  5. anonMD
    anonMD says:

    yeah, he’s right. I got top grades at an Ivy and wound up going to a third-rate med school ’cause I’m a lousy interviewee. I said I’d never make that mistake again and work on being more well-rounded in med school. Except, guess what? You have no time to be well-rounded in med school! So of course I got a lousy residency (in a relatively competitive specialty, admittedly).

    I’m in my late twenties. Is it too late to change, or am I going to be a lousy interviewee (and hire) forever? I really don’t know how to party or network, and I wonder if my brain just isn’t wired for it.

  6. Roger
    Roger says:

    I can’t believe the drivel I read here. I have been recruiting at a Fortune 100 company for 15 years, and believe me, grades matter. So do social skills. But don’t think social skills by themselves with a 3.2 will get you an interview – it takes a 3.4 plus just to get through the initial screen. It is the same way at many other major companies. If you choose to ignore this, do so at your own peril, as you can never get your GPA back….

  7. Tiara
    Tiara says:

    To all the Fortune ### people here, the money-focused people, and to the OP too:

    What if your goal is to make a difference in the world?
    What if you want to start your own enterprise, your own project, your own organization?
    What if you want to create something for the world, your community, or even just yourself?
    What if you’re not concerned about what some random employer may think about you, not concerned about the rat race and cubicles and all that – but you’re concerned about how you can contribute to the world?

    Does your GPA matter then?

  8. Johnny
    Johnny says:

    It should be noted that you don’t really need to get straight A’s in college, but that doesn’t grant the license to get a D in every class. This is a great article, I’m going to feature it on my site for college students!

  9. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    Jon I think you’re one of the best guest bloggers Penelope has had. I liked the post a lot and agree with every point, except the part about enjoying life on your parents’ dime during college. Like many commenters, that doesn’t apply to me. But that’s a minor nit. I went over to your website and loved it too, tried to subscribe to your RSS feed but that got blocked for some reason. I’ll try again later.

    Oh, and as a manager I can say I’ve hired too many straight-A students only to find out they can’t deliver on the most basic assignments. I’ll take a well-adjusted smart person who can deliver on a commitment any day.

  10. Tim
    Tim says:

    Wow I don’t agree with some parts of the article but some of the criticisms for this article are just plain ridiculous and I really do wonder if trying to get the highest GPA turns people into snobs.

    “Oh yeah, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA from a better school than you attended. How do I know that? I learned more than you did. Most people with lower GPAs probably learned more than you did.”

    Anyone with a GPA number can write a more intelligent post than this.

    “And to rebut one of your ending conclusions, law can be miserable and low paying but it sure isn't for everyone. I found my niche, made parter, love what I do, and have a good living. Generalizing from your feelings and limited experiences to an entire professional is immature and, again, ignorant.”

    Talk about being ignorant I’m sorry everyone who didn’t have law go the same way it did for you.

  11. JClarno
    JClarno says:

    I am getting ready to attend college after serving many years in the US Navy. I am currently working as an Environmental Scientist with no college education and receiving pay and benefits similar to my colleagues with degrees. I am an example that hard work and perseverance can go a long way. I also know that habits formed while in the military made me effective and these habits, much like the habits students obtain in college, are extremely important in all aspects of life. Those who excel both scholastically and socially develop good work habits and understand moderation. Learning balance is paramount and it sounds like you have learned this a bit late, but you learned it nonetheless.

  12. Ted
    Ted says:

    My God, Jon, you got your studies paid for by your parents, got great grades, and you’re still not satisfied. Stop whining, and make your life what you want it to be! Don’t wait for them to come to you, but hunt the good jobs down using the knowledge that you gathered over the years.

    Sure, there’s no reason to KILL yourself for great grades, and maybe you could have spent some of your time differently. But the point is: you didn’t! You’ve followed a certain path, and now you’ll have to decide whether that path was correct, in which case you continue on it, or if it was wrong, in which case you look for a cross section that gets you on the right track.

    Man, you’re so lucky you had the ABILITY to study. Now go do something MATURE with it, and stop crying like a beaten up mama’s boy.

  13. Ted
    Ted says:

    Actually, I need to gripe some more:

    Jon, you’ve LEARNED something: you’ve gotten all that experience that your studies brought you, bought for you by your daddy. AND you’ve apparently picked up outside school, like how relatives are important as well. The latter is available to most of us, although some of us are blind to that truth. The former, however, is NOT for everyone. Some of us just don’t have the mental makeup to do it, others lack the funds, and still others live in a neighborhood where schools are an unheard-of luxury (third world, war zones).

    You got BOTH. 90% of the people in this world would sell their soul to be in your shoes, and I doubt you’d do well in any of their places. At least not while yammering about a waste of time.
    You still have time to waste (as proven by this post), now waste what’s left of it in a more constructive, productive, sensible manner!

  14. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    I have to agree with those here who disagree with the blogger.

    I was always a straight A-student. But I also won squarely the All-Rounder trophies in schools. I enjoyed a whole bunch of stuff in college including random stuff such as watching my class play cricket on Sundays, people, outdoorsy and cultural activities, formal and informal leadership roles in student affairs, and a whole lot of sleep! I am friends with a large % of people with whom I studied. Nearly everyone who taught me remembers me after all these years.

    Thanks to all that, when I cite communication theory now – and I graduated with my engineering degree 15 years ago – it is steeped in a lot of cultural context, cross-disciplinary references and humour.

    Grades are employers’ concern at your first job which for many lays the foundation of their future. So they are not totally unimportant.

    So what can I say?

    That you missed out on a well-rounded education?

    That genius for you was 99% perspiration but for many, it is not?

    That this post was another one of the privileged-20-somethings who think they have ‘lessons’, when nearly 90% of those do not apply to others?

    Thanks and good luck!

  15. thom singer
    thom singer says:

    I love the comment by Tim (just a few up from here)

    “I really do wonder if trying to get the highest GPA turns people into snobs.”

    I do know people who are “better” school and “higher” grade snobs who are in their 40s and beyond. A person I know got passed over for a big promotion from a Fortune 500 company. The woman who got the job only had a high school education, but had spend 20 years with the company. She apparently is good (I don’t know her)…but he freaked out that the VP job went to someone with out college over him with an MBA. He quit in a big huff saying that a person with no degree should never have been allowed to work in the company no matter how good she was. OUCH.

    She is still there and doing great. He is still bitter.

    And the recruiter who says you cannot get a job in a big co without a 3.4…that is not true either…(maybe true just out of college). I know lots of ambitious people with bad grades or no degree who have great jobs with brand name companies. Yes, they had to earn their way to the top on other paths than going straight into coveted training programs, but they are good at what they do. A smart boss hires the best person for the job. A risk taker will over look company policy on grades if the person is worthy. Who would want to work for a dumb boss who wont take risks?(apparently a lot of people…but this is a whole other topic for your blog!).

    Look, most people who commented were very stuck on their own good grades. Congratulations, you should be proud. I wish I had straight A’s now that I am older. Yes, it is a good idea to get good grades. But when you are 41 years old if you are still thinking about your GPA (A’s or C’s) then you need to move on. If you are 25 and still bragging about grades, that is ok, you dont have other stuff yet.

    But think about this….when you die, do you want them to say “He was a straight A Student 60 years ago”? God, I hope there is more to say than that…so much more that the grades pale so much behind the great person, entrepreneur, philanthropist, parent, spouse, friend, and all around amazing human being. A sad world to those who secretly want their GPA stamped on your tombstone. In the end it is just a number.

  16. George
    George says:

    The only job that really matters what your GPA is, is the first job after school. After that, you better have a reasonably good showing at that job for your quest for a second. A lot matters in money making potential from where you start. Higher GPA’s tend to translate into higher starting salaries. If then you are good at what you do, you will tend to make more money for the rest of your life than your peers who started out with a lower expectation from their employers who did loo at you GPA before the interview. I have interviewed many entry level persons in my lifetime. I look up the GPA before that process. I don’t ask the applicant because I already know. GPA’s in and of themselves are not that important. WHat other things did you do while in school (internships, community service, volunteer work) tell me how interested you are in your life beyond the classroom and that you are more well rounded than the next person. Grades are inportant because they signal the person’s interest in doing well in whatever they started. I would have to admit, however, that a person with a 4.0 GPA does make me wonder if they ever spend the time to experience something else other than the pursuit of perfection.

  17. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Sorry, Jon. My earlier comment said you were 22, but you are actually 25. Unless there was a mistake that’s been corrected, I probably just misread it.

  18. Susan J.
    Susan J. says:

    The thing about GPAs is that grading policies vary so widely that it’s like comparing apples to watermelons. The comment about “I wonder why you struggled to get all As” ignores the fact that some colleges or college majors are tougher than others. Some of the liberal arts departments at my college required profs to maintain a B- average in their classes. So even if you aced every test and wrote AMAZING papers, unless you were one of the profs’ favorites, the best you could hope for was a B+. We called it “grade deflation,” and it made us type-As crazy!

  19. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    I’m 23, and I got mostly A’s and a few B’s in college. I don’t list my GPA on my resume (and have never been asked) but I do put that I graduated with distinction. If anything, I think it just shows that I’m a hard worker, and interviewers have always commented on it positively. I also had three internships when I graduated and only one job offer, so I’m not sure if either gave me much of an edge. On the other hand, I now work for a university and can attend graduate school here at a discount, so I’m glad I had the good grades even though grad school was never a goal of mine.

  20. Dave
    Dave says:

    I guess I am a super genius, I graduated (recently) with straight A’s and a 4.0 GPA. All while juggling a fulltime job, a wife, four kids, and all manner of events and circumstances that occur in everyday life. I would say that while employers may or may not care about the GPA (to a degree), that anything worth doing is worth giving your all. If you try your best and do not achieve an A, then you can still be proud of the grade because you did your best. However, setting your sights low and deciding to “settle” for lower grades is a path which will set the trend for your career. If you take the easy way out during school, then how can you say that when you are employed you will step up to the plate, do the hard work, put in the hours, pay your dues, and so forth?

  21. Mary
    Mary says:

    So the measure of friends is whether they give you “access to the networks they've developed,” classic literature is worthless because it is not “useful,” and the point of college is to “make powerful friends” and “build a killer résumé” so you can “make as much money as possible.”

    Our generation has no soul. Excuse me while I go kill myself.

  22. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    No, Mary, your generation is just ultra pragmatic. :-)

    My only thought would be, allow for the idea that most everyone’s personal goals evolve over time. Committing all your energies to a single goal makes for better odds you’ll achieve it, but it’s easy to miss the opportunity cost you incur for those resources, until it’s too late…

  23. Beth
    Beth says:

    I think that the truth of this depends on what you plan to do after you graduate. Where you attend school. And what type of student you are. I went to a private liberal arts college, and I made all A’s because I knew I wanted to go to a good law school once I finished. And I wanted to be competitive. And I happen to really love school.

    If you want to work at a big fortune 500 company grades matter. Even at really elite schools. If you just want a job, then maybe they don’t matter so much. Also, the market is important (as in where you want to work). Furthermore, if you are on scholarship (like I was) getting good grades isn’t really an option.

    I challenge some of the prior comments, however, because I don’t think that you necessarily have to chose between a social life and good grades. I did study a lot, but I also spent a lot of time doing social things (no I did not sleep, but who needs to sleep? I don’t really sleep now!). I played in video game tournaments (I’m a girl, so it was a big deal), went to tons of parties, dated a lot, was a TA, and, for variety, I went to National Honors Conventions. I worked my way through school. And I loved it. By the way, I got into a great law school. And I have a job that pays well (not sure what the blogger meant by law having pay issues). I don’t regret it one bit, and I think back on my time with fond memories.

    If you approach college like it is four years to do everything you possibly can (I also traveled a lot in college; take study tours, because they are a great experience and you can travel for very cheap), and that you should fill every second of it finding what you love, what inspires you, and working really hard, maybe you won’t get all As (I admit, I was the exception) but you will do well, and you will make wonderful memories.

  24. Danny
    Danny says:

    Never fault yourself for doing a good job and having a good work ethic. I know the popular philosophy of posts on this site tend to support about a 20% level of “slackerness,” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a good job if you can. You shouldn’t think of college as a means of employment, it is something that you do for yourself (brain conditioning). So, does it make sense that you feel like you gave your self more then you deserve? Only if you hate yourself.

    Most of your points are dead on, your GPA is not going to single you out and move your résumé to the top of the list. However, as an employer I will say this… A high GPA demonstrates that you will work hard because of your own drive and pride. Depending on the difficulty of your degree, it also demonstrates to me that you have the ability to figure something out from a manual. Don’t get me started on my low opinion of College professors (sorry, facilitators). Those of us that achieved higher then a 3.5 average know that it wasn’t always a great professor (there are some exceptions) that made this happen, it was actual studying and figuring things out when the professor couldn’t explain it.

    One final point, there is a fine line between 3.9 and 1.9. Give yourself a little credit for being smart, perhaps the students you are comparing yourself to that had 3.0 only appeared to be partying and networking more then you. It is possible that they worked just as hard as you did but were not as smart.

  25. frumpiefox
    frumpiefox says:

    I honestly can’t say what my GPA was–I graduated 3 years ago from a public university business program. They were good enough to get me into the grad school of my choice.

    Then again, I’m now in public service (by choice; I found out soon after graduating that corporate America wasn’t where I wanted to be), so I guess the GPAs and salary numbers were never all that important to me. I’m currently in a job that is a stepping stone to where I want to go; I make enough to pay the bills and have some spending money, too, thaough I’m by no means highly paid; I feel like I’m playing a small but vital role in the place I live, rather than just making a buck; and I’m generally satisfied with my education and lifestyle.

    Some of the most pathetic people I now know are the ones who did fairly well in college, partied like there was no tomorrow, and are now late twenties and early thirties bar flies who hate their fairly well-paying but soul crushing jobs and have no plans to grow up.

    Yes, there’s definitely more to life than grades, partying, or money.

  26. Jill
    Jill says:

    I graduated with a GPA of 3.8 and killed myself for it. I agree with the article in some respects. Grades don’t mean anything. However, they do teach you to focus, prioritize and organize-all good things! At 26 and having lost my mother 2 years ago I can say one thing…connections, relationships and life experience mean the world. It’s not about being perfect at work, school or with friends but rather learning the art of balance, perspective priorities. You should do well at school but also focus on quality of life. Doing both will only make you a better employee, friend and partner.

  27. Bezerko
    Bezerko says:

    It certainly sounds as your time in college was a huge waste. What mystifies me is that you were smart enough to get nearly straight As, and yet not smart enough to wake up midcourse and notice that you were learning nothing of value. You could have changed majors, changed schools, or otherwise taken actions short of tanking your GPA that might have allowed you to take something from those four years that stuck with you.

    The whole work hard or live well dichotomy is bogus. If you are not engaged in some pursuit you value, your life has no meaning, and you will not be all that happy, even if you are earning decent jack. The trick is not to work or achieve less, but to work hard and achieve in line with your inner values and goals.

  28. Dale
    Dale says:

    Yes! Thanks for this post. You make excellent points… the issue is that “education” is firmly ingrained into society’s heads to mean books and academics. Case in point, just look at some of the scathing comments. You’re attacking something sacred.

  29. Shanna
    Shanna says:

    I’m currently in college at the age of 39 finally getting a degree in what makes me happy. I get to go to my favorite playground with all the best toys and the people who know how to get the most out of them. I feel for you on what you think were missed opportunities. It’s no use crying over spilt milk.

    The best lesson I have learned through being an employee, an employer and a student is that you should never bypass an opportunity to learn or grow and that a gpa is merely a number that shows your dedication to that pursuit.

  30. SouthernGirl
    SouthernGirl says:

    At my college, a 3.0 was Dean’s List. That’s how hard it was, and having a B average was something to be PROUD of. Those who had straight A’s (I don’t know of one, actually) literally never saw the light of day at our school.

    The reputation of my college, and having successfully graduated from it, has done way more for me than my grades. I took a temp job out of school becaus I had no idea what I wanted to do, and worked my way up to where I am today. Do I regret graduating with a 2.5? No way. My experience was one I wouldn’t have traded for the world, and my network and friendships are invaluable.

    I just also think there’s more to a story than a GPA – I would likely hire someone who had a 3.0 at a “hard” school versus those who coasted through with a 4.0 at an Ivy where the hard part is getting in, not graduating.

  31. Dale
    Dale says:

    I graduated with a 3.97 as an undergrad, and a 3.55 from graduate school, and despite the toll it took on my life, I do not regret missing some events, and fun times along the way. I learned alot about myself. I learned what I was capable of doing, and I learned how to learn – oftentimes under pressure!

    I respect and admire the effort it takes for someone to devote the time and work to get good or great grades. The icing on the cake is when that someone does this while holding down a job and or raising/supporting a family. That’s an individual I want on my team. Sure, learning about workplace politics is important, and experience is valuable, but so are personal discipline, dedication to a course of action/goal, and pride in quality output. These things cannot be taught vicariously, they are self taught.

    I also think that this discussion also depends on the industry we are talking about. My PR consultant doesn’t need to have the best grades, but my surgeon should:)

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  32. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Oh to be a liberal arts major. Please, don’t think that grades are not important if you go into science or engineering.

    Your GPA was not a waste of time. The discipline it took to get those grades will serve you well for the rest of your life. You’d be surprised how many people have no idea how hard they can work – so when the need to they often don’t and thereby miss huge opportunities. You know you can do it when you have to. Trust me, it will be important sooner or later.

    Your problem was not your GPA, your problem was your major. You poured your heart and soul into an education that you feel wasn’t worth the effort. I too would wonder what the point of it if I came out with an education I felt that I could not use.

    Working during school can be of great benefit – but take it from someone who did work her way through school it can also really suck. If you want to experience some really lousy moments try working full time 3rd shift while attending classes during the day. I did not graduate with as high a GPA as you did during my first degree precisely because I had to work while going to school.

    I quite agree that work experience *in your field* is of benefit to getting an interview. It’s certainly something I look for when interviewing candidates. But I also *always* check GPA’s for young new hires. Years of experience can overcome bad grades, but I would be much more unwilling to overlook them in a 25 year old.

    Call me old fashioned, but decent grades indicate a willingness to work and a commitment to what you start. I don’t have to see a 4.0 in a new hire – but I’ll rarely hire a 2.9. And I always want to see at least a 3.5. You have more to prove to me if you didn’t work hard enough to get decent grades.

    And funny thing about it, our young engineers with poor grades have a much harder time passing the professional licensing exam. If I am ultimately trying to hire someone who can get their PE, why should I reduce my odds by taking a chance on a candidate that did not work hard enough in school?

  33. Bob Mould
    Bob Mould says:

    I agree GPA may not have been helpful to you in job interviews. But definitely it would have given you a sense of pride which will reflect in your attitude. And attitude is everything.

  34. Liz
    Liz says:

    What I have always liked about this blog is its focus on building a decent life–how to contribute to the community and family as well as just work. How to build a career that will suit your needs, not just impress others. To me, this post is the opposite. Life, education and work to me are not about being “the best student” or “the most well rounded.” You don’t have to have straight A’s, straight A+’s, or be the “most popular.” You don’t have to have the “best job” or “the most money” either. And I don’t decide to study or not, pick friends, pay attention to my family, or pick activities based on what may be the impression of future employers. Sorry but it amazes me that people actually think the way that this author seems to, and I hope the author will take some time off from work, relax, and reconnect with his inner nature a little bit. Maybe do some volunteer work or the Peace Corps. What is the point of trying so hard to impress when you don’t know where you want to end up? Whatever the other readers might think, this comment does not come from a “hippy” whatsoever, just from someone who tries to live according to values, not just the bottom line.

  35. Doug
    Doug says:

    I worked 20 hours a week MAXIMUM in college on schoolwork (5-10 hours per week was more typical). I partied 2-4 times a week, made friends and connections, while double majoring and playing rugby. I graduated with a 3.6 cumulative GPA.

    Granted, I could have tried harder and perhaps achieved better grades, but I have no idea what you would even do for 60-80 hours a week, let alone why you would need to put in so much time for good marks. Ever heard of declining marginal returns?

  36. Lee
    Lee says:

    I graduated summa cum laude in English from UC Berkeley with a 3.9 GPA. Berkeley grades on a 2.5 curve. I got these grades not because of obsessiveness, but because I LOVE to learn, engage in critical thinking, do tough research, and sort out complex information into an organized structure on deadline. Furthermore, my thesis was on a subject that applied directly to my professional life. I got a fantastic education and it has served me immeasurably. Sorry about yours.

  37. Gatzke
    Gatzke says:

    This IS an inspiring story, but keep in mind that it only applies to certain fields of study. I wouldn’t take it as a solid formula for all prospective students. Nice job though ;)

  38. Nathan Snell
    Nathan Snell says:

    Great post. Seems spot on from my experiences.

    This is encouraging for me at least. I am just about to exit college (Yay for May) and have always focused on getting a 3.0+ GPA while making sure to spend time learning other things I really want to learn.

    As such, I have gotten more job opportunities, made more connections, and have more expertise from the extra curricular work I did on my own than from what the GPA does. I have probably spent just as much time building my experience in areas as I have in school. I don’t regret it at all (and my employers don’t seem to either).

    There have been very few situations where I have ever regretted not spending more time getting those A’s. And arguably, for the subjects I know less about, I focus more on getting A’s in (Eg: Business Law vs. Marketing).

    Good, honest post!

  39. johnCard
    johnCard says:

    no jon is wrong. i’m a highschool drop out and now run my own management business. but looking back, wish i would of finished school. u can always pick your business, but going back to school years later would be difficult and admit would be useless. a degree is something that no body can take away and a high grade average is even better:-) cheers to u jon

  40. enlightenment
    enlightenment says:

    I don’t miss the fun college life, but I should have cracked down a little harder and got better grades.

    Could I have gotten higher grades in college, heck yes, but I can’t go back and be young and do crazy things again either, so having lots of friends and lots of fun can’t ever be replaced!

    College grades are very important for jobs immediately after collge, because you don’t have any or little work experience, so they use that as a way to measure your ability to push hard and get good grades.

    Since I am older now, my experience is far more important on my resume. I list my college and degree at the very bottom of my resume, but leave off my GPA.

    Just because a person has a high GPA, doesn’t mean jack when you work with me. I’ve worked with some extremely sharp people that didn’t have a college degree and would put them above a lot of people who do have college degrees.

    I remember about 10 years ago when a young punk came to work at our company, and he always ended his reasoning of why something should be done in a certain way with the line “and because I went to MIT”. This guy was very incompetent and his big talk didn’t save his ass because we fired him 6 weeks later. I still wonder if he even had a degree from MIT.

  41. Paul Blackstone
    Paul Blackstone says:

    I’m not surprised that most of the people commenting here can’t think in shades that aren’t black and white. The gist of the original post is simple: manage your time to get a lot of good experience in before you graduate. Nowhere does it say that you should stop caring about grades; nowhere does it say that you should completely slack off; and nowhere does it say that grades are completely irrelevant.

    If a recent grad with a 3.0 isn’t a big enough hot shot to score a job with a big investment banking or consulting company it does NOT mean he/she is doomed for life. If the person works for a few years after graduation, proves themself to be great assets to a company, and a big Fortune 500 firm still won’t look at them because of some classes they took place 10 years ago, then perhaps these companies will miss out on some of the best that is out there; but someone will notice and you’ll be fine.

    And by the way, for all the commenters who are pumping the investment banking and consulting industry as being the place where the hottest grads go to work… I can’t help but look at the front page of the newspaper every day and think “so this is where the smartest and most talented grads in our country work? Sad.”

  42. Kirill
    Kirill says:

    This type of reasoning only comes from business/eng/poli sci majors. NOT students from traditionally harder streams like sciences or engineering.

  43. Stefano
    Stefano says:

    I majored in Computer Science. Out of a life career, I’ve only had 1 employer (government) ask for GPA and transcripts.

    I can tell that your initial impression makes a big difference in how you get treated throughout the interview process. I’d probably ask for GPA if I questioned someones presentation or experience.

    However, since graduation, I’ve found that most interviews in my professional are followed up with technical interviews that are unrealistic with highly obscure technical questions. In fact, I’d match some of the ‘technical’ interviews against my final examinations from college.

    Additionally, more people in CS are now asking for MS degrees… With tech interviews the way they are, programming may just as well be a certification with a ten month time limit.

  44. Ben
    Ben says:

    While it is nice to get good grades, and more useful than bad, don’t neglect the other areas of life. Try and achieve a balance between both. The mountain dew reminds me of a story my aunt told me about someone who was in college and drank copious amounts of the stuff every night. My aunt is a psychologist, and the problem was that this patient had developed a physical dependancy and addiction to the stuff, and as it was legal consumed so much he was now obese, addicted and could not sleep most nights. His life was a wreck. True story. I don’t remember the end exactly, although I vaguely recall that he did overcome the addiction.

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